FACT: OPT OUT has been the ONLY action to hold the attention of education policy makers and legislators.
Within the opt out movement, teachers frequently share their personal and professional opinions on testing, the testing culture and the opt out movement. Many teachers are parents who choose to opt their own children out of the state’s “mandatory” tests. While many are new to opt out, some have been opting out for years. Teachers have admitted that sometimes, in order to comply with their employment contracts, they may even be in violation of their Professional Code of Ethics. Teacher morale is at an all-time low in Florida. A quick internet search “Florida teacher shortage” yielded numerous articles – see here, here, here, and here.
One of the biggest challenges facing the opt out movement is how to increase public (parental) awareness of the harsh truth about high stakes testing. Parents and teachers who are actively involved in the movement are often frustrated because we know that if teachers were to speak out en masse, that parents (and legislators) would have no choice but to hear them. However, in Florida, teachers’ unions provide little protection. Teachers have no right to strike in this “right to work” state, leaving little leverage in negotiating contracts and as one teacher points out in this post,
“All new teachers hired in Florida after 2011 get only a one year contract and hope to get renewed in June.”
Parents would do well to understand why, in spite of the rules effectively banning teachers from speaking out (undermining the state’s massive push for data collection via test and punish accountability mandates), any teacher would still:
- choose to opt their own child out of “mandatory” testing;
- choose to speak out against the high stakes attached to testing, and
- choose to inform parents about the growing culture of high anxiety in schools as a result of high stakes testing.
Sharing with gratitude for the teachers’ voices here. In their own words…
Former Orange County Teacher, Melissa Johnson
“I resigned from my teaching position on Friday. I was asked by my teacher friends to do ONE thing once I was on the “outside.” They asked me to tell everyone what they can’t say, “DON’T LET YOUR CHILD TAKE THE FSA TESTS!” Teachers want to teach, not test prep!”
Elementary School Teacher of 28 years:
“Testing Season is upon us once again. What does this mean? It means that students in grades 3 and up will be subjected to hours and hours of testing that will not give their teacher or parents any meaningful feedback. Results will come in after the students have completed the year. Teachers and parents are not allowed to view the questions.
In my county, we have not even completed the third grading period. Yet, these tests will have questions on the full year’s worth of standards. In addition, to prepare for test taking, the students have spent many days learning strategies to help them have success on the tests. Hours and hours of instructional time is lost. The focus is no longer on learning. It is on doing well on the tests.
Teachers have expressed their concerns. Parents, too, have spoken to legislators and written letters voicing their dissatisfaction with the emphasis on testing. All 67 superintendents have gone on record as having lost confidence in Florida’s accountability system. Yet, legislators and the Florida Department of Education have dismissed these concerns. There is no other recourse than to refuse to allow our children to be used as pawns by those who have a vested (financial) interest to keep the Testing Machine going. Opting Out is a form of Civil Disobedience. If enough children do not take the tests, the accountability system as it now stands will collapse. Perhaps at that point, the decision makers in Tallahassee will begin to listen.
I ask all parents who do not support the over-testing of their children to opt out of testing. For more information, go to The Opt Out Florida Network. And, thank you!”
LL, Pasco County Teacher of 6 years
“ I teach ELA grade 8 and both of my sons opted out last year (when they were BOTH students at the school, where I teach) and will opt out again this year (one is still with me, the other is in high school.) I wish parents understood how truly useless these tests are in the big picture.
– I wish parents could sit in the room with me during the tests and see how stressed out some of the kids become.
– I wish parents could see the abusive ‘sit and stare’ of the kids when they are done testing.
– I wish they understood that I, a professional educator, have a MUCH better understanding of their child’s abilities than this flawed test. I wish parents understood that they have the right to waive their child OUT of remedial classes that are given as a result of these tests AND that they have the right to WAIVE their child into advanced classes if their child has proven their ability, but that this ONE-day faulty snapshot test leads to their child to being deemed ‘unqualified.’
– I wish more parents understood that denying that data would FORCE the fools (most of whom have ZERO classroom experience) in Tallahassee to rethink their agenda that is motivated by $$$$ and NOT by what is best for our precious children.
The only people who ‘have to’ know (about a teacher’s child opting out) would be the school’s admin and the child’s teachers. I did not broadcast my decision. And, frankly, almost all of the teachers who knew (I had two sons with me last year) high-fived me. I only had one teacher call me into question. My child. My choice. I HAD NO RAMIFICATIONS, however, I did have my husband handle everything, including all the correspondence with admin and teachers.”
Cyndi, Sarasota County Teacher of 30 years
“Parent business is parent business and teacher business is teacher business. I am not breaking my contract by refusing to have my child take a test. My son is in the 5th grade and is opting out for the 3rd year. I wish parents knew about this entire opt out movement. I am a teacher, I really think it’s a personal choice, but I hate to see it being done for the wrong reasons, without true conviction as to why we are really fighting the testing – like to avoid mandatory retention or because you want your child to be placed on Alternative Assessment. And yes, this is the 2nd year we are minimally participating.”
Middle School Teacher of 14 years
“Parents – I want you to know how much pressure the tests and data are placing on our public schools. The district administrators are regularly using test data to pressure the school administrators, who are in turn using said data to terrorize the teachers. The result is low teacher morale and high faculty turnover (There are 161 teacher vacancies in one county alone). There is so much testing and scrutiny over such testing that stress and anxiety have robbed schools of any joy of learning, for both teachers and students.
The problem is that so much time is spent meeting and talking about our testing and our numbers that we scarcely have time to do our actual jobs in the classroom. Instead of working together for our profession, we are numbers crunchers and our students are widgets. This micromanagement is detrimental to our students and our education system.”
Joshua Katz, Orange County Teacher of 8 years
“A student asked me about the FSA Writing test. I asked if it had any bearing on his grade. He said no. He then asked what it does for him. I said, “Nothing. This isn’t about you. It has never been about you.”
I’d like parents to know the statutory alternatives for 3rd and 10th grade FSA (school work and ACT score), and I’d like for parents to know that the FSA has absolutely no positive impact on their student. And yes, my own children are ‘minimally participating’ (I used these words to end the threats from the school).
I sent an e-mail to the teacher asking, “Is there any evidence this year that my daughter is deficient in reading at the 3rd grade level?” The response was, “Absolutely not, she’s been above level all year.” I said, “Thank you very much.” There is now no chance on this green earth of retention.”
(See Katz’ viral TedX talk: The Toxic Culture of Education)
Anna, Middle School Teacher
“I knew when my oldest came home on the third day of third grade crying because she was told if she failed FCAT, she would have to repeat the third grade. That was my sign to opt her out.”
Orange County Media Specialist – 25 years
I’m a media specialist with OCPS and have taught for 25 years. In those years I have experienced the degeneration of school library media programs in Florida which has accelerated with the advent of Race to the Top. With “testing season” upon us, I will be closed to book checkout, research, information literacy lessons, enrichment activities, etc. and will become a test administrator for weeks at a time. School-wide, instruction comes to a halt. Students are regrouped into “testing groups” and very quietly marched in and out of the library and computer labs for long sessions of testing. Even the most behaviorally challenging students know the drill and march to the testing orders. It’s scary how compliant they are. If nothing else, we have taught our children how to take a test – not pass a test, because we already know a high percentage will fail thanks to the arbitrarily set cut scores – but they have been taught since 2nd grade, and now Kindergarten, how to behave during a test. Is this our educational legacy?
The most distressing aspect of becoming a robotic, script-reading test administrator in a high poverty school is seeing the resignation to failure on the faces of many of our students. They know they’re going to “fail”; they fail every year. The year we switched from FCAT to FSA (Common Core), I told my students, “Congratulations, you’ll never have to take another FCAT test again.” They cheered. Then I told them the bad news: that the new tests will be longer and harder and all on the computer. One girl asked, “Why are they going to make us take a harder test when we can’t pass this one?” A good question and one I could not answer. This year, during the FSA Writing Assessment, a student raised her hand and asked, “What are they asking me?” I told her I couldn’t help her with that. I suggested she go back and reread the prompt. She raised her hand again, “How am I supposed to answer when I don’t know what they’re asking.” I encouraged her to try. At that point, she huffed, turned off her monitor and put her head down. She was a very low level reader and the article that the prompt was based on was too hard for her. She knew it, I knew it, her reading teacher knew it, so how does this test help her in any way? She didn’t realize it, but she had opted-out.
What are we doing to a generation of students that are repeatedly being told they’re failures? How do these tests inform the people who can actually help them with their academic or emotional needs? (And the emotional needs are many and must be met before meaningful academic progress can be made. No standardized test can address this.) They don’t inform, they label. Parents and teachers know from working with their children on a daily basis the needs of the child, so who benefits from all this data from these tests?
When I think of the money that one district alone, even one school alone, must spend on computers, tests and materials aligned to the tests – new tests mean new textbooks and software – I believe the answer is obvious. Hint: It’s not the kids.”
“I opt my child out of the FSA. That is my decision as parent because of what I know.”
Xan Khan, former Orange County Teacher and Literacy Coach of 10+ years
“I was a high school English teacher for four years and then a literacy coach (reading coach) for six years. I resigned this August, because I could no longer lie to parents and students telling them that they were required to take the reading exam and subsequently the reading class. Especially when I knew that we did not have programs that would actively help students with language processing issues.
As a parent and literacy coach I do not want my child to take the FSA. Primarily because the assessment is discriminatory and has significant consequences attached. My daughter has dyslexia, along with 20% of the world’s population, and throughout the year she is provided accommodations through the use of assistive technology. When she uses these accommodations, in class, every day she is academically independent and successful. However, she isn’t allowed to use her assistive technology when taking the FSA. Therefore she is severely limited, and as such, can not succeed. I liken it to asking a visually impaired student to take this reading test but not allowing them to use their glasses.
The consequence for her failing these assessments is placement in a remedial class. As a literacy coach, I know the curriculum for these classes intimately. These classes won’t help her. Additionally, placement in these classes keeps her from opportunities to explore her gifts through electives. Students who are college bound should learn skills that prepare them, but students who are non-traditional college bound need to be prepared with alternative options as well. And, in this, we are failing greatly. One test on one day does not accurately assess the skills acquired throughout the year, nor does this rigid assessment tool address different learning styles.
I don’t object to assessments, however I believe they should be diagnostic and formative in nature and they should be used to guide instruction. They should not be used as a method to determine student worth or the success of a teacher or school.”
Orange County Elementary School Teacher of 30 years
“We are guilty of stressing our students out. Let me share why with the parents. As a teacher, we go to weekly data meetings, after the benchmark tests. The data from your class is displayed on the wall or a computer screen. They ask you why the first time the class took the skill test, the overall class score was 28% and now it’s only 48%. Then you are asked to explain on the spot in front of your colleagues. Should you bring up the turnover rate, poverty level or parent involvement level? You walk out feeling devalued like a salesperson at IBM who didn’t meet their sales goals. You are shown which of your students are on the cusp and need you to just work a little harder to make their learning gains. You ask about the other students and a hush falls over the room.
This week we were made to sign that we did the 65 question school survey during our planning time, from our school laptop computers. If you speak up, you can be called to Employee Relations and given a reprimand for not uploading a Leave of Absence form within 48 hours. If you speak up about testing on Facebook, you may be maliciously reassigned to another position in another location. These are the real stories behind the scenes. All new teachers hired in Florida after 2011 get only a one year contract and hope to get renewed in June. They are like walking zombies doing everything to keep their jobs. Did you ask why teachers are not speaking up? This is why they are called “high stakes” tests.”
Alexis Rapp, former Orange County Teacher of 12 Years
“I am no longer teaching, however, during my teaching days, I was unaware that parents HAD the option to opt out! Most of my experience has been with primary grade students, PreK-2, in Orange County as a classroom teacher and then reading coach. (I was required to proctor the FCAT at my last school, which was asinine in and of itself. Why didn’t I just say no?!?) The majority of students that I learned from were under resourced learners from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Then, even though the climate was beginning to change, we felt like we were protected and that we were in a space where we could do what was right for kids and families: collaboration, guided reading, art integration, family outreach, GRE classes… Unfortunately, OCPS decided that we needed some form of standard data, so our second graders were subjected to the SAT-10, although there was (and still is none that I am aware of) no state mandate that says that K-2 students must take any form of standardized testing. As you can probably guess, the experience was heart-wrenching. I watched students who had surpassed reading goals crumble to tears.
After spending the year working hard to help the children understand that their thinking, their gifts and even their struggles did matter and were important, I watched their spirits crushed after testing. On top of that, it was unnecessary- we had other data that could have been used instead.
That was 6 years ago–now it is much worse than anyone could have possibly imagined. I wish that parents knew how many unnecessary tests their children are asked to take and how much power they have to advocate for their kids. I would have LOVED for parents to say no to this kind of crap and save school for authentic learning. We now have two children enrolled in SCPS. Interestingly, it came up in a conversation that I was having with a friend that she did not know that her family could have opted out of the IOWA and/or opted out/denied data via CTAs–not just FSA. So, it comes down to knowledge and parents having access to information.
The Opt Out Florida Network has been a game changer for many of us, including myself. If I had not had the resources and support provided here, as a parent, I would still be in the dark about many, many things and would not have been able to tell my friend that, yes, there are more tests that her children do not have to take! We who have access to Facebook, other social media and community events are very fortunate.
The question for me is, though, how do we help parents in under resourced communities take charge of their students’ educational experience so that they, too, can know their rights? These are typically the children who are most harmed (see longitudinal FCAT data) and whose parents need the information the most, but can’t get to it, for many different reasons.
Building relationships within the communities is necessary in order to impart such knowledge and trust is key. What is the best route? And, what’s more, who has the time to commit to doing it on top of everything else?! I STILL feel overwhelmed when making decisions for my own kids.”
Liliana Vidal, Teacher of 3 years
“It’s just their stupid rule. Every student must “test.” So you can either keep your child home during testing and have them opt out during make ups or opt out during testing week/days. Regardless, the student is minimally participating by breaking the seal or submitting an unanswered computerized test.
My son has an IEP, ADD, and SPD and he’s opting out. He’s performing below grade level. He told his friends he’s not taking the FSA and they started telling him he’s going to be left back. So of course he came home and asked me. But this just goes to show you how many people are misinformed, not aware, and even the kids believe they HAVE to take these tests or suffer consequences. All I know is I’m happy my son, who has a lot of trouble in school, will not be stressing about writing enough, choosing the correct answer or answers when it comes to math, and or worrying about how long it will take him to complete the tests.”
Alina McLennan Davis, Orange County Teacher of 19 years
“I agree with the statement about informing parents of the statutory requirements. I believe if more parents were aware of the law, they may be more willing to speak out to make changes to the law. I also think parents need to be aware of how the implications emotionally impact their children. The implications of taking the test once and how it can affect school promotion. Not right for kids. We all have a bad day. And how does one test one day prove you can learn? Parents need to know they have a voice and power to make change.”
M, a Teacher of Exceptional Student Education
“As a teacher, I think the fact that they make us sign gag orders and oaths that we will not look at the test content while administering it says all parents need to know about whether the test makers have any sort of confidence in their actual validity, and speaks to the real purpose of the test, which isn’t about teachers gaining usable information to drive their instruction, no matter how much propaganda statements say about it.
Jenny DaCosta, Former Orange County Teacher
“I wish all Students would opt out! The only way to force change upon our system is to withhold the data they so desperately want! It is obvious that we must unite to force the system to change.”
Middle School Teacher of 17 years
“I don’t have any kids of my own, but if I did, I would not allow my kid to take these “state required” exams. Parents, I wish you wouldn’t either. Kids are sick of the formative assessments that our school bought into.
They take a pretest and a monthly test and then a post test – all computer-based, computer-driven. They do progress monitoring throughout the year. I have a feeling they’ve introduced this, because of the opt-out movement. They know there’s a groundswell of parents opting their kids out and they’re going to lose if they don’t stay ahead of the curve.
So now it’s monthly testing. To date, teachers are not held accountable based on the computer based test, at least not yet. My crystal ball is telling me though that’s coming soon to our local neighborhood schools. The district will be able to evaluate teachers using that test instead of a state exam. Time will tell.
It is bad here, with our Broadie superintendent. Teacher morale is at an all time low because of the testing and tying teachers’ jobs to test. They are resigning and/or retiring as fast as they can and some just getting out of teaching. And the rest are just counting the days to retire/resign. I am the Union Rep at my school, teachers come to me to vent and I try to boost them and support them and keep them in the game.”
Orange County Teacher of 31 years
“I am currently the ESOL teacher of a 650 student elementary school in central Florida. This a my 31st year of teaching but have only been in FL for 18 years
What I would like parents to understand is they have the power to stop this testing culture and the high stakes nonsense attached to our current testing culture. I want them to know the game is rigged for student failure and is NOT a way to determine skill mastery. I had to administer both third and fourth grade tests last year and I could tell the fourth grade test was easier than the third grade test and because I had to read the test verbatim for IEP accommodations. I learned the questions are unclear and convoluted and certainly not in a normal question structure.
I also want them to remind their kids that they don’t have to sign the pledge not to talk about the test and since they are all minors it’s not valid anyway and that they (parents) WANT to hear about the test and then listen to what the kids tell them.
Finally I would like many parents to refuse the test. If schools don’t test 95% of the students- too bad.”
Jamie Bell, Third Grade Teacher
I teach third grade ELA. I wish more/all parents would opt out. When a parent mentions opting out I wish I could say what I really want, which is to support them. I wish that the parents who opt out and whose kids have good grades would DEMAND that the district follow the state rules and use report cards to show their child isn’t deficient in reading instead of a portfolio. I wish parents would understand that I HAVE to do what “they” say because I need my career. I think the test asks questions that are too deep for third grade students. I’ve seen students in tears time and time again and I HATE it. It’s wrong! I wish parents would realize teachers aren’t the problem. We’ve been told the rules time and time again and we are afraid. We truly believe all the bad things they say, until we learn more. This isn’t my real name though. I’m afraid to use my real name for fear I’ll get fired.
“What would I like parents to know? I would like them to know that I hate what high stakes tests have done to our schools. I hate that we test their children incessantly throughout the year just to see if they’re on track to pass.”
Graduate Student in Education
“So I have read all the mixed opinions on the test, I have read how it affects our children, how it may or may not be valid, how it’s biased toward some learners. Whether you agree with the movement or how it affects your child, the one thing we should all agree on is the idea of using one test to measure growth that has the ability to hold children back, reduce teacher pay, and affect the ability to be awarded a diploma is a test with too much power. Tests are developed for specific reasons and when we use those tests for other reasons we diminish the validity.
My child would do wonderfully on the FSA, but because I am against the myriad of reasons with which the test is being used, he is opting out. Schools have used norm referenced tests at least since I was in elementary school in the 1970’s, but never did they cause this much stress. A norm-referenced test like the FSA measures growth against the “norm” based on cut scores. It is shallow and does show individual student proficiency against the standard, for that we need to use a criterion-referenced test, otherwise known as report cards or teacher created tests. One test, given the last month of school to be used to show what resources the school needs and how we can help the diversity of students is all we really need. Individual growth can be measured using criterion based assessments and students will be measured continually by the teacher through daily work and learning gains.
In order to create change, a national movement like opt out is important to educate everyone about the difference between the forms of measurement. We are not opposed to measuring growth, we are opposed to measuring growth in an invalid way. My son is 4th grade and he is opting out. I have worked it out with the testing coordinator and his teachers. He is to break the seal and say he is ill. They will escort him to the office and I will pick him up. I am not yet a teacher, but I know his teachers approve of what he is doing.”
And finally, this last contribution by a teacher might shed some light on why some of the teachers here have only been willing to share anonymously…
“I’m not certain if people outside of this group can see these posts, but I urge you to use caution if you are a teacher in sharing your opinion. It is possible to lose your job (or at least deal with the threat & stress of the possibility) if the wrong person with authority sees this & decides they don’t like what you have to say about FSA or opting out. I am speaking from experience.”
The Deafening Silence of Teachers – Huffington Post June 16 2014
“…standardized tests are not like the weather, something to which we must resign ourselves. . . . They are not a force of nature, but a force of politics- and political decisions can be questioned, challenged, and ultimately reversed.
Teachers, parents, and students can turn their frustration into action and successfully turn back the testing juggernaut in order to create classrooms that focus on learning.”
~ Alfie Kohn – The Case Against Standardized Testing, 2000